“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Benjamin Franklin
Maybe because it’s the least touched on topic or because, truly, it is the one subject that is dependent on each person individually, but recovery will be greatest challenge of your life. Declaring that you have a problem with drugs and alcohol is the easy part. Leaving a program and getting back to life is the hardest part. My husband will have 7 years in February and I can tell you that the biggest battle for us has been navigating life after the rehabilitation. So here’s the big secret to even having a shot at being successful: HAVE A PLAN.
Start creating a plan before you even go to rehabilitation. Start collecting ideas while you are in rehabilitation about next steps. If you are out of rehabilitation and floundering for what to do next, keep reading.
Rehabilitation addresses one part of a multi-faceted problem. It doesn’t fix your life from that point forward. It gets you on your feet but in order to make the transition you have to make a plan for yourself. I have come up with a framework based off of the last 6 years that will at least provide some structure or direction.
1.Seek counseling: If you are married, if you are single, if you are in the process of divorce, if you are a family member of the recovered then put this at the top of your list. There are plenty of options for counseling whether that’s a church with a counseling component, a referral from a friend or through a local family counseling practice. Find someone. Ask about payment options. My husband and I contend that if we had not gone through intensive counseling after he came out of rehabilitation then we would have never made it. We needed someone to hear us, to be objective, to be a safe place to share our fears and concerns about this transition. If you are a family member then seek counseling for how to handle this transition of your loved one. A counselor can also be a mediator between the family and the addict. After you finally get a loved one into treatment they leave a giant wake of hurt and sadness behind for you to deal with. Deal with it but don’t deal with it alone. You need sound advice on how to proceed. Otherwise, you are left with battle wounds that never heal.
2.Get involved: Find a church, find a program you love, find someway to give back, and find something outside of a job that ignites your passion. You might find yourself with time on your hands if you lost your job so while your searching, volunteer! Idle time and old patterns slip you back into positions that you aren’t ready for and are ill equipped to handle.
3.Be careful about job hunting: For many people who just jump right back into their life they find themselves in situations that they aren’t strong enough to take on yet and wonder why they relapsed so quickly. The family expectation of getting back to work, the need for money, and the skills you are qualified for can be a deadly combination. For instance, if you were an on the road salesperson and you drank alone in your hotel room or found hotel bars to be your second home then perhaps returning to this job is a bad decision for the transition to a new life. You have to look for a job that keeps you out of those pitfalls and accountable. You may take a pay cut or have to change your financial expectations but you now have new goals and priorities in life.
4.Get REALLY comfortable with your story: one of the ways that I truly realized that my husband was going to make it is because he shared his story with anyone who would listen…no really, waitresses, the guy at the body shop, the person who picked up the couch from Craig’s List…everyone. It would make me cringe sometimes but then he would share what the conversation was about and I realized that that person needed to hear his story because, in that moment, they needed HOPE! We are all looking for hope and your story doesn’t matter until you share it. It also helps in changing your identity. You are different now. You have changed. Talking about it makes you comfortable with your new self. Don’t let it be something that sparks shame. Let it be something you overcame and continue to find strength in telling the story. I often wonder if people get tired of hearing my story…I wonder if they think “leigh, aren’t you tired of talking about it?” The answer to that is an emphatic NO. The Lord intervened in our life in a powerful way and not continuing to give Him praise for that would not honor the gift of the redemption story.
5.Educate yourself: I am not the most avid reader but when its a subject I am passionate about I will read whatever I can. If you are the spouse or the loved one of an addict then read books that apply to co-dependency and the enabling relationship. I encourage parents and spouses to really understand their role in recovery. If you aren’t aware of your role in recovery then you can actually increase their time in the cycle as opposed to helping. We naturally believe ourselves to be helpers and then end up interfering with a downward spiral that needs to occur. If you yourself are transitioning into a life after rehabilitation then find books on brain chemistry, addictive behavior, family genetics and addiction. It’s amazing how much easier it is to be in this process of recovery when you understand your bodies response to addictive behavior and how this happens. (We have several book recommendations located on the lifeonthewagon.com website.)
6.Open your Bible: Every day the Lord reminds us of being prepared, planning and putting on the armor. When you come out of rehabilitation you will be a prime target for temptation. The enemy does not want you to succeed. They delight in our failure and dance on our weakness. Prepare yourself for it. It may not be obvious, it may come from the doubts of your family and friends, it may arrive in a pretty package or a relationship that you think you are ready for but the Holy Spirit is telling you no. You need to navigate through this with your spiritual armor or you will fall. The arrows, the road blocks, the open doors that aren’t meant for us. It’s all very confusing if you do not know how to differentiate between where you should and shouldn’t go and the enemy loves to keep you confused. (Ephesians 6:10-18)
“The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.” Proverbs 27:12
7. Understanding that consequences linger: you went down a dark road, you hurt people, you made some really bad decisions. Look, no ones perfect and I have made my own horrible decisions but one of the realities of this is consequences from the aftermath will continue to exist. People will see you differently. You will have to explain gaps in resumes. Trust isn’t automatic. Time doesn’t heal all wounds. Some things that have been broken will never be the same. I don’t say all of this to shame anyone. I am proud of those who take recovery seriously and realize that this is going to be A LOT OF WORK. But the work is worth it. Family will begin to trust you again. You will become an encouragement to others but you have to be proactive in your own recovery. An attitude of passivity lets things happen without creating opposition to it. The Lord wants us to be prepared for the pitfalls. He wants us to get involved with life so that His plan can take shape.
8. Find someone to be accountable to: Your spouse and family are not your accountability group: I have seen it happen too often (specifically, with spouses leaning on their husband or wife as their accountability group) and this you need to hear. Do NOT place the burden of accountability with your family or spouse. They have been through too much to now have another role. Keep in mind they are in the process of healing, too. Look for someone older and wiser. Find someone who has been in recovery for at least 5 years. Find someone that had a similar path (i.e. children, spouse, single, divorced etc…) Call your church and ask one of the leaders to help identify someone they know in the church. Go to your local AA meetings and be paired up with a sponsor. This is a person that will not judge you, that you can call when you feel weak or beat down. Your wife or your husband cannot do this objectively without slipping back into their own patterns of co-dependency. I wanted to drive my husband back and forth to Celebrate Recovery under the guise of us being a team however what I was really doing was controlling the situation and making sure he went. You can see why this is a conflict for both.
9. Old Friends and New Friends: You may also find a new circle of friends that think as you do now. If you aren’t strong enough to be around old friends then perhaps you can politely excuse yourself from their company for a while. You may become distant and that’s ok. If they are truly worth your continued friendship then they will be there when you are ready. Be honest with them though. Talk with them about your new life. They might understand. They might not.
10. Look for opportunities to build trust. I think I said it before but this new life will be a challenge! If you are seeking opportunities to build back trust then you get to were you would like to be at a steadier pace. Show up when you say you will show up. Do what you said you were going to do…consistently. Call when you said you would call (don’t text… call…because if someone can hear you speak soberly then they won’t doubt you). Go above and beyond without expectation of anyone noticing. You might have moments when you want to rebel or give up. Don’t give into that. This was self inflicted chaos and the outcome of giving up is returning to a lonely life. In fact, it’s not living at all.
Remember your rock bottom moment? Don’t forget that moment. Remember what you told yourself then: “never again”? Remember how dark and alone you felt? Keep pushing forward, run the race, and stick to the plan. Good days will start to outnumber the bad. Thank God for normal everyday days. Those are the days and moments I treasured.
I still love ordinary days because I remember I prayed for ordinary days. Pray for those kind of days again. You worked hard for those days and when they start to come again be thankful that God ushered you through.